Things I took for granted (things I knew, but never appreciated)
-how loudly we speak
-how friendly strangers are
-how informal staff are
-how large drinks are
Things I learned (never realized about Americans)
-I thought I'd get back and be annoyed and overhearing (specifically, understanding) everyone's annoying conversation. Instead, in my hotel at breakfast, I understood not a single conversation around me: Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic. At first I thought to myself "wow! we're the only family speaking English here!", but then I realized that my family was actually speaking a mix of English and Tagalog-- so our conversation was probably just as intelligible to an English-only speaking person
-"foreigners" (a phrase that once made my skin crawl, but one that I've gotten into the habit of using to self-identify) keep to their ways and language not only out of habit, but without choice
-politeness and rudeness is subjective, but so is the conscious effort to be either. When in a foreign country, it may feel easy to be polite, but it's impossible to control how you're being perceived. May as we'll loosen up, and master the fine art of balancing disregarded for how others see you and maintaining and openness to criticism/correction
-look, I have to say it: how much freedom we have. How many times have you tried to figure out just how much you could get away with? How many times have you deliberately defied social norm? How many times have you made a decision to improve something even though your way has never been done before?
-how important social capital is. In America, I was raised in a middle-class, suburban environment. Nearly all of my teachers were White and spoke (and taught me to speak) Standard English. I was taught specifically how to shake hands with strangers, how to make small-talk, how to conduct myself in an interview... Everything for how to get along (and rise) in American society was taught to me. I had it figured out. In japan, I didn't. I learned how it felt to not know how to act in a way that is considered professional for them. I learned how it felt to be, for all intents and purposes, socially illiterate. I learned how it felt to be in constant fog of not quite knowing 100% what was going on in a work meeting.
How I was forced to change my personality--
-I'm used to being a leader (or, as Brian says, being a big sister.... Or, as my sisters say, being bossy). In japan, you're the leader if you've put your years in or if you are actually, officially, by title, the leader. Otherwise, you are the masses.
-I'm used to trying new ideas. In japan, you follow tradition and routine.
-I'm used to experimenting and adjusting plans along the way. In japan, you meticulously plan and then stick to the plan.